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6 min

Pride grand marshal: Model citizen

Enza Anderson presses onward

ENERGETIC ICON. Pride grand marshal Enza Anderson is already gearing up for a 2010 run for city council. Credit: Nicola Betts photo

Enza “Supermodel” Anderson has just started decorating her apartment. Though the local newspaper columnist, TV hostess and now Pride Parade grand marshal moved into her Church St digs more than three years ago she’s just getting around to fixing the place up now. It might be because the Jane-and-Steeles-born beauty has been so damn busy the last few years with her numerous writing, broadcasting and queer fundraising activities. Or perhaps it’s because the pink-painted bachelor she inhabits is, like herself, a work in progress.

“My goal in life is to function as female although I don’t have the money to get all of the feminizing surgeries I’d like to have,” she says. She’s silent for a moment, then giggles as she cradles her large and no doubt expensive breast implants. “I’m still paying for these things.”

Though the walls of her impeccably organized space are virtually barren, she has managed to nail one thing up; a framed copy of the now infamous 1998 Toronto Sun post-Pride cover with a photograph of her planting a sloppy kiss on then-mayor Mel Lastman.

“I didn’t even realize until I put that picture up that it’s been 10 years since that happened,” Anderson says. “It was such a spontaneous thing but it really launched me into the public eye and essentially started my career.”

Who knew a spontaneous smooch could grab her national public attention and launch a media and activism career that saw her run for mayor of Toronto in 2000 against Lastman himself? Though she didn’t walk away with the crown Anderson did come in a very respectable third in the race, all the more surprising considering the fact that her campaign consisted almost entirely of standing on downtown street corners with a handmade sign that read, “A Super City Deserves a Super Model!”

At the time Anderson was accused of making her mayoral bid as an attempt to strengthen her position in the media spotlight but she’s quick to dismiss those claims.

“I didn’t run for mayor because I wanted attention. I did it because I believe the way our municipal government functions needs to be changed,” she says. “There are some good politicians at City Hall but there are others who’ve just had cozy rides over the years.”

Though her first bid failed Anderson was undaunted and returned to the race again in 2003 against incumbent Kyle Rae for the Toronto Centre-Rosedale seat on city council. Anderson says the impetus for her second run was a four-day stretch during which her apartment building was without water due to a broken water main.

“I called Kyle Rae’s office and I was totally ignored,” she says. “It was offensive to me that someone who this community has kept in office for so many years would be so dismissive of the concerns of the constituents that put him there. After that I decided to run against him.”

Anderson ended up finishing a distant second to Rae in that contest, but gained some valuable insights into the political process through the contest.

“I simply wasn’t prepared,” says Anderson. “Although people recognized me from the mayor’s race— which in part helped garner a second place standing in the 2003 city councillor race— I lacked the funds and a massive volunteer team to mount a winning campaign. I only had two friends help me out.”

In between her two tries at council Anderson also made a bid in 2002 for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance after then-leader Stockwell Day called it quits. Though many were surprised that an openly trans woman chose to run for the leadership of a traditionally homophobic party Anderson felt it was a chance to raise visibility where it was most needed.

“That was a time when the Alliance was spewing homophobia in all directions and I thought it would be a great opportunity to change the party from inside,” Anderson says. “To show these people that I’m a human being just like them could have the effect of really changing their minds about some things.”

Anderson ended up dropping out of the race due to fundraising issues but not before injecting her own brand of glamour onto the national scene.

“I bring a unique colour to Canadian politics that’s severely lacking,” she says. “So many of the politicians in this country are so boring and straightforward, always playing by the conventional set of rules. I’m someone who can change that.”

But not everyone agrees that the flair Anderson brings is warranted or useful in the political arena. A quick Google search of her political history brings up one adjective associated with her name over and over: campy. Anderson is well aware of the mainstream media’s characterization, but feels it has less to do with her political platforms and public personae than it does systemic transphobia.

“Calling me campy is just another way to diminish me,” she says. “It’s a reaction to my trans identity. If I was a genetic woman with two X chromosomes who looked and acted exactly the same way no one would ever refer to me as campy.”

In addition to her campaigns for political office the 44-year-old also works as a columnist for the daily commuter paper Metro News and contributes periodically to publications including Xtra and Fab. A typical day sees her rising just before 7am to meet her daily deadlines but Anderson says she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Writing for Metro has been such a great experience,” she says. “They took a chance when they hired me but they really proved to everybody it doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re gay, straight or a transsexual. It’s a matter of doing the job professionally and presenting the right public image.”

Like the famed Sun photograph her job at Metro started with a spontaneous action, a well-timed cold-call to Metro editor-in-chief Jodi Isenberg asking for her own social column.

“I called her and said, ‘This is Enza Anderson. You may remember me from running for mayor.'”

Isenberg did indeed remember her and invited her to lunch that week. Anderson pulled together a mock-up of the proposed column, which she presented to Isenberg over a plate of ravioli. She was immediately offered the job.

Four years later Anderson contributes two columns to the free daily. Her weekly Hot Ticket feature profiles Toronto’s party scene, while On the Move profiles transit users.

Writing both columns makes for a pretty hectic schedule. The Hot Ticket requires attendance at oodles of Toronto parties and events— last year alone she attended more than 200— and On the Move means planting herself daily on a street corner frequented by commuters so she can catch people as they walk by.

“I just stop people and ask them if they read the paper and if they’d like a profile,” she says. “Either they tell me to fuck off or they say okay.”

Anderson adds that she does occasionally get harassed while recruiting commuters for her column. “Sometimes people will yell, ‘queer,’ ‘faggot’ or ‘sicko’ but I just ignore it,” she says. “I’m not ashamed to say to people that I’m transitioning and I’m functioning. I do my job with such dedication and in the most professional way and that’s what’s important.”

Anderson has another pot on the stove: she’s got plans for a cooking show that she’s currently shopping around to a few major networks. She’s tight-lipped about the details, though she’s willing to say it will involve a bunch of drag queens cooking with professional chefs. “I also know it won’t be called ‘Cooking’s a Drag,'” she says with a laugh.

Busy as she is with her various writing jobs and projects Anderson is also already planning a third run for city council in 2010.

“I want to change how city politics work and provide people with better access to government,” she says. “City Hall needs fresh faces, new ideas and a younger approach. I have that energy.”

Anderson is ready to put into practice the lessons she learned from her last bout with the ballot. “I’ll work my contacts early to put together a winning team, organize a strong fundraising campaign, work my high heels to the ground campaigning door to door.”

At the top of Anderson’s agenda are rights for sex workers. “The police need to start viewing sex trade workers as people who are doing a job and deserving of the same rights as everyone else,” she says. “We’re all human beings and we shouldn’t view sex workers as lower class.”

Anderson would like to see sweeping changes in how the police force conducts itself in general.

“Shouldn’t it be the job of the police to protect every citizen?” she asks. “The police force talks about how they put all their officers through diversity training but I don’t think they really take it seriously.”

Though her position as grand marshal at Pride this year could be an opportunity to relax and bask in the glory of all she’s done Anderson still has things she wants to accomplish.

“I want to be able to live my life as a trans woman and be proud of who I am,” she says. “I want to be able to shop at regular stores and sit in a restaurant without being harassed. In everything I’ve done I’ve tried to show the world that a trans woman can function like everyone else.

“Like transitioning itself, gaining acceptance is a gradual process. We just have to keep fighting. To me that’s what Pride is all about.”